Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How to Be a Rebel: Read a Banned Book

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Image credit: bannedbooksweek.org

I've known that Banned Books Week was coming up this week for quite a while, but I've never really prepared anything to say about it. But as a prospective librarian (and even more specifically, a Young Adult one), I would be remiss not writing something about it! So this post may be all over the place, but its intent is to highlight an important part of reading and education, particularly as it relates to children and young adults.

My day job in publishing has connected me to a number of librarians nationwide, and I love discovering how they are keeping their kids engaged. One such librarian is Michelle Luhtala, a rockstar in the world of librarians. She was the keynote speaker at a school district conference I attended for work, and I overheard her presentation on how she encourages her students to use the Internet to its full potential, because this level of worldwide real-time connectivity—through Twitter, Facebook, news feeds, etc—is the present and it is the future. She organizes a Banned Websites Awareness Day every year (her school library has no bans or filters) to remind her students that not everyone enjoys the same access that they do.

And that's it in a nutshell. That is purpose of Banned Books Week and other events that recognize censorship—to remind us that access is not equal, whether its prevented by a web filter or by a close-minded teacher or librarian or parent.

One of the fundamentals of librarianship is to ensure access of information and material to all, and I think there's no more important group for that apply to than children and young adults. Because books, and movies and websites are how you experience the world. This is how you can learn opposing viewpoints, experience different lifestyles, and relive history without ever leaving your seat. And in a society that is increasingly global, it's imperative that children grow up knowing what's out there and knowing how to experience it.

I would've liked to have had a list of books I'd read and discuss during this week...but I just have so much to read as it is. (The day I get to read as book that is NOT considered YA will be a joyous day.) Instead, here's a list of the most frequently challenged books of the past decade. What's your favorite from the list? Do you think the challenges are warranted? Are you surprised to see any of these on the list?

I recently had to read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian for school, and I loved it. In fact, compared to many other books I've read, I am continuously surprised this one has such a history of frequent challenges. I think it has a wonderful overall message that yes, life can be hard, but here you have this character who is defying the society around him and taking control of his own life. It's optimistic, it's realistic, and it's inspiring for anyone in a similar position.

As to the rest of that list, I actually shrieked a little bit when I saw the cover of It's Perfectly Normal, a sex ed book by Robie Harris. My mom bought this book for me when I was about 10 and left it in my room with the intent to have "the talk." I have never been so terrified of anything in my life, and I avoided physical contact with this book as if it held a communicable disease. That book was the stuff of my nightmares for at least a year of my adolescent life. Luckily, "the talk" was somehow avoided, and the book is probably at the top of a closet by now. Whew!

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